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Lingthusiasm Episode 13: What Does it Mean to Sound Black? Intonation and Identity Interview with Nicole Holliday

If you grow up with multiple accents to choose from, what does the one you choose say about your identity? How can linguistics unpick our hidden assumptions about what “sounds angry” or “sounds articulate”? What can we learn from studying the melodies of speech, in addition to the words and sounds? 

In Episode 13 of Lingthusiasm, your host Gretchen McCulloch interviews Dr. Nicole Holliday, an Assistant Professor of linguistics at Pomona College about her work on the speech of American black/biracial young men, prosody and intonation, and what it means to sound black. We also talk about how Obama inadvertently provided her research topic, the linguistics of the Wu Tang Clan, and how linguistics can make the world a better place. Links to topics mentioned in this episode below.  

This month’s bonus episode is a recording of our liveshow about discourse markers in Montreal in September. What do “um” and “like” have in common with “behold” and “nevertheless”? They’re all discourse markers! These little words and phrases get a bad rap for being “meaningless”, but they’re actually really important. Find out how, and picture yourself sitting among real, live lingthusiasts in the excellent linguistics section at Argo Bookshop, by listening to the recording! You can get access to it and previous bonuses about language games, hypercorrection, swearing, teaching yourself linguistics, and more by supporting Lingthusiasm on Patreon.  

We’re excited to bring you our first interview episode right before our very special 1-year anniversary episode in November! To celebrate a whole year of enthusiastic linguistics podcasting, we’re aiming to hit another milestone at the same time: 100,000 listens across all episodes. We’re currently at 83k as of right before posting this episode, so it’s totally doable, but we need your help to get there! Here are some ways you can help: 

  • Share a link to your favourite Lingthusiasm episode so far and say something about what you found interesting in it. If you link directly to the episode page on lingthusiasm.com, people can follow your link and listen even if they’re not normally podcast people. Can’t remember what was in each episode? Check out the quotes for memorable excerpts or transcripts for full episode text.  
  • We appreciate all kinds of recs, including social media, blogs, newsletters, fellow podcasts, and recommending directly to a specific person who you think would enjoy fun conversations about language!  
  • If you didn’t get around to listening to a couple episodes when they came out, now is a great time to get caught up! 
  • Write a review on iTunes or wherever else you get your podcasts. The more reviews we have, the more that the Mighty Algorithms make us show up to other people browsing. Star ratings are great; star ratings with words beside them are even better. 

All of our listeners so far have come from word of mouth, and we’ve enjoyed hearing from so many of you how we’ve kept you company while folding laundry, walking the dog, driving to work, jogging, doing dishes, procrastinating on your linguistics papers, and so much more. But there are definitely still people out there who would be totally into making their mundane activities feel like a fascinating linguistics party, they just don’t know it’s an option yet. They need your help to find us!  

If you leave us a rec or review in public, we’ll thank you by name or pseudonym on our special anniversary post next month, which will live in perpetuity on our website. If you recommend us in private, we won’t know about it, but you can still feel a warm glow of satisfaction (and feel free to tell us about it on social media if you still want to be thanked!).   

Here are the links mentioned in this episode:

You can listen to this episode via Lingthusiasm.com, Soundcloud, RSS, iTunes, YouTube, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also download an mp3 via the Soundcloud page for offline listening, and stay tuned for a transcript of this episode on lingthusiasm.com.

You can help keep Lingthusiasm advertising-free by supporting our Patreon. Being a patron gives you access to bonus content and lets you help decide on Lingthusiasm topics.

Lingthusiasm is on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
Email us at lingthusiasm [at] gmail [dot] com

Gretchen is on Twitter as @GretchenAMcC and blogs at All Things Linguistic.
Lauren is on Twitter as @superlinguo and blogs at Superlinguo.

Lingthusiasm is created by Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Our audio producer is Claire Gawne, our editorial producer is Emily Gref and our music is ‘Ancient City’ by The Triangles. Interview with Nicole Holiday recorded on July 27; the rest recorded on September 28 2017.

I’m so excited to bring you our very first Lingthusiasm interview with Nicole Holliday, whose fantastic Intonation and Social Identity class I got to sit in on at Lingstitute this summer. (Definitely also check out this interview about the class.)

Eating, Reading, Making

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 02:29 pm
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
[personal profile] forestofglory
Eating:I made Thai inspired yellow curry the other night with tofu, cauliflower and sweet potatoes. It wasn't bad. The people in my household I was feeding liked it.

Reading: I started So You Want to be a Robot and Other Stories by A. Merc Rustad because many people whose taste I trust liked it. Currently only two stories in but I like it so far.

Making: I'm sewing a dress for me! I don't sew a lot for myself or for adults so this exciting.

Morning on the Hacking

Thursday, October 19th, 2017 07:37 pm
[personal profile] khiemtran
Come with me this week on a morning paddle down the Hacking River to South West Arm...


More behind cut. May be boring if you don't like tidal estuaries or stingrays... )
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

Pleased to see that linguistics is considered low-risk for both supervillain world domination and breaking free from the lab, in this comic from xkcd.


Wednesday, October 18th, 2017 11:13 pm
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Posted by Jo Walton

Lent is finished. 103565 words as of now, sent it out to beta readers, waiting for response. Kind of done, yay!

[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed


Linguist Twitter had a lot of fun with #SpookyTalesForLinguists. Go check them all out, or read last year’s Linguistics Gothic

This is your annual reminder that, if you come up with a linguistics-themed Halloween costume, please do post a photo/description and alert me to its existence so it can be added to the archives

[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed
“🐱 KIT
👨‍⚕️ NURSE


Above: The Standard Lexical Sets for English as emoji.

These terms were introduced by John C. Wells and are often used when people talk about specific vowel sounds.

Different English varieties split or merge these distinctions in different ways, for example, the 🕳/🛁 split, and the 💡/🍔 merger.

For more see Lexical Set on Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lexical_set

Make your own set!

(via superlinguo)

I’ve put these on the vowel trapezoid, for ease of reference! 

Note that all positions are approximate because the lexical sets (by design) vary across English dialects. 

The problem

Monday, October 16th, 2017 08:16 pm
liv: cast iron sign showing etiolated couple drinking tea together (argument)
[personal profile] liv
Sexual violence against women and girls is endemic. There's an absolute mountain of evidence that this is the case, from the experiences of my friends to any number of posts on social media to rigorous studies. A big part of the reason I decided to identify as a feminist is because women are routinely denied bodily autonomy and feminism seems to be the only political movement that cares about this.

links and personal observations about sexual violence against women )

I absolutely believe everybody else's experiences, people I know and strangers writing brave, brave columns and blog posts. I am just a total outlier, and I really shouldn't be. So I'm signal boosting others' accounts, because I know that I needed to be made aware of the scale of the problem, and perhaps some other people reading this could also use the information.

The Linguist Lurch

Sunday, October 15th, 2017 06:30 pm
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

Because once “What if Monster Mash, but about IPA vowels?” crosses your mind, there’s only one thing to do… 

I was working in the lab late one night
When my tongue beheld an eerie sight
For my vowels from my mouth began to rise
And suddenly to my surprise

They did the lurch
They did the linguist lurch
The linguist lurch
It was a graveyard perch
They did the lurch
It caught on with no search
They did the lurch
They did the linguist lurch

From my laboratory in the castle highs
To the department lounge with the small-cap i’s
The schwas all came from their humble abodes
To get a jolt from my electrodes

They did the lurch
They did the linguist lurch
The linguist lurch
It was a graveyard perch
They did the lurch
It caught on with no search
They did the lurch
They did the linguist lurch

The carets were having fun
The party had just begun
The guests included Horseshoe,
The merger of Don and Dawn

The scene was rockin’, all were digging the sounds
Epsilon chain-shifting, backed by /e/ and /aw/
The Canadian Raisers broke down the door
With their vocal group, “The Crypt-Kicker Fourth Floor”

They played the lurch
They played the linguist lurch
The linguist lurch
It was a graveyard perch
They played the lurch
It caught on with no search
They played the lurch
They played the linguist lurch

Out from the trapezoid, Ash’s voice did ring
Seems he was troubled by just one thing
He opened the lid and shook his fist
And said, “Whatever happened to my Great Vowel Shift?”

It’s now the lurch
It’s now the linguist lurch
The linguist lurch
And it’s a graveyard perch
It’s now the lurch
It’s caught with no search
It’s now the lurch
It’s now the linguist lurch

Now everything’s cool, Ash is part of the band
And my linguist lurch is the hit of the land
For you, non-linguists, this lurch was meant too
When you get to my door, tell them Print A sent you

Then you can lurch
Then you can linguist lurch
The linguist lurch
And do my graveyard perch
Then you can lurch
You’ll catch on with no search
Then you can lurch
Then you can linguist lurch

Teaching phonetic transcription online

Friday, October 13th, 2017 06:30 pm
[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed
Teaching phonetic transcription online:

An interesting post about how to teach and practice the International Phonetic Alphabet given that both audio files and IPA transcriptions are now commonly available online, from the blog of Angus Grieve-Smith. Excerpt: 

It immediately became clear to me that instead of listening to the sounds and using Richard Ishida’s IPA Picker or another tool to transcribe what they heard, the students were listening to the words, looking them up one by one in the dictionary, and copying and pasting word transcriptions. In some cases Roman Mars’s pronunciations were different from the dictionary transcriptions, but they were close enough that my low grades felt like quibbling to them.

I tried a different strategy: I noticed that another reporter on the podcast, Joel Werner, spoke with an Australian accent, so I asked the students to transcribe his speech. They began to understand: “Professor, do we still have to transcribe the entire word even though a letter from the word may not be pronounced due to an accent?” asked one student. Others noticed that the long vowels were shifted relative to American pronunciations. […]

This still left a problem: how much detail were the students expected to include, and how could I specify that for them in the instructions? Back in 2013, in a unit on language variation, I had used accent tag videos to replace the hierarchy implied in most discussions of accents with a more explicit, less judgmental contrast between “sounds like me” and “sounds different.” I realized that the accent tags were also good for transcription practice, because they contained multiple pronunciations of words that differed in socially meaningful ways – in fact, the very purpose that phonetic transcription was invented for. Phonetic transcription is a tool for talking about differences in pronunciation.

The following semester, Spring 2015, I created a “Comparing Accents” assignment, where I gave the students links to excerpts of two accent tag videos, containing the word list segment of the accent tag task. I then asked them to find pairs of words that the two speakers pronounced differently and transcribe them in ways that highlighted the differences. 

[syndicated profile] allthingslinguistic_feed

Lauren: I think the big difference for me between learning Polish and learning Nepali is that I just – even though my Nepali was atrocious when I first turned up in the country, I made a point, even with people who spoke English, to make our day-to-day social interactions in Nepali. And it was horrific for everyone and it was exhausting for the first little bit, but in a way I’ve benefited because there were all these relationships that I now have that I had so much more Nepali practice, whereas in Polish, because my language was really poor when I arrived, a lot of my initial relationships and friendships that I set up in Poland were in English and that kind of set the tone for those. 

Gretchen: I did something similar when I moved to Montreal. I said to myself, I’m going to decide that the city speaks French to me, that even when people try to switch into English, I don’t have to accept that. And it was hard at first, but now my French is a lot better and many people have said to me that they appreciate that I try to stay in French.

The analogy I like to use is that somebody trying to switch into English on you is like them trying to pick up the cheque.

Lauren: Yeah.

Gretchen: It’s a very nice thing for them to do, but you don’t always want to be in the situation where other people are picking up the cheque for you.

And once you realise that you can sometimes pick up the cheque, it gives you this tremendous feeling of power and altruism to be like, “I am so magnanimous and I am paying for this now!”

Lauren: You feel like such a grown-up!  

Gretchen: Part of growing up is learning how to be rude so you can be polite, like fighting over taking the cheque. 

Lauren: Or like, helping clean up when you’re visiting someone’s house for dinner, even when they say you don’t have to. 

Gretchen: Right, so you’re not learning how to be monolingual in a different language, you’re learning how to be bilingual, and that means you’re learning how to be polite with language choice. A lot of people learning a language will say something like, “Well, I’d like to practice more, but people keep switching to English on me.” And the answer to that is they’re trying to pick up the cheque for you, but you don’t have to accept that! You can out-polite them back and keep speaking their language.

You’re learning how to take part in a normal negotiation that happens in bilingual conversations, where you both try out each other’s language until you figure out what’s the most comfortable balance, who’s the most fluent or the most persistent. At first, you’re going to lose at fluency, but you can win at persistence.  

Lauren: In fact, you can have a whole conversation where each person is trying to politely speak the other person’s language. That’s a conversation style you don’t even realize is possible as a monolingual!  

Gretchen: It’s like what the astronauts do!


Excerpt from Episode 10 of Lingthusiasm: learning languages linguistically (edited). 

Listen to the episode, read the full transcript, or check out more links about learning languages linguistically.  

The astronauts line is in reference to this quote from episode 1

(via lingthusiasm)

Eating, Reading, Making

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 11:14 am
forestofglory: E. H. Shepard drawing of Christopher Robin reading a book to Pooh (Default)
[personal profile] forestofglory
I haven't been posting much hear beyond the occasional short fiction recs. I'd like to get back to posting more. I've gotten into a bit a a perfectionist stint not wanting to post thing just thrown together and feeling extra self-conscious about making spelling mistakes in public. (I have learning disability so I make lots of spelling mistakes -- thank goodness for spellcheck.) So to help with all that I'm starting a new weekly project: Eating, Reading, Making. For this project I'll post a bit about what I've been eating, reading and making during the last week. Some weeks I might write a couple of paragraphs, some weeks just a couple of words. We'll see how it goes.

Eating: Its the time of year I switch form eating cold cereal to oatmeal in the mornings. I eat cold cereal while good fresh fruit is available then oatmeal with golden raisins during the colder months.

Reading: The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty -- this deeply personal history of southern food is really good. Its pretty dark in places because a lot of the history of southern food is also the history of slavery.

Making: I've been making a Halloween costume for my kid. Its a Robot. I am using this dress pattern as base and a making the panels different grays and I've sewn on some solid colored squares to look like buttons. I think it will be cute.

What have you been eating, reading or making recently?

Shoes in Songhay and West Chadic: towards an etymology

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 05:44 pm
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Posted by Lameen Souag الأمين سواق

The proto-Songhay word for "(pair of) shoes, sandals" is *tàgmú (Zarma tà:mú, Kandi tà:mú, Gao taam-i, Hombori tà:mí, Kikara tă:m, Djenne taam, Tadaksahak taɣmú, Korandje tsaɣmmu). It is evidently related to a less widely attested verb *tàgmá "step on" (Zarma tà:mú, Gao taama, Hombori tà:mà, Djenne taam). (Velar stop codas are lost in all of Songhay except the Northern branch, leaving behind either compensatory lengthening or a w; see Souag 2012.)

In Hausa, the word for "shoe, boot, sandal" is tà:kàlmí: (borrowed directly into the Songhay (Dendi) variety of Djougou as tàkăm). Within Hausa, this likewise corresponds to a verb tá:kà: "step on". The two-way similarity is striking, but if there was borrowing, which way did it go? A cognate set in Schuh (2008) casts some light on the question.

Hausa belongs to the West Chadic family, in which the best comparison to Hausa "shoe" seems to be Bole tàkà(:), with no obvious cognates within its own subgroup, Bole-Tangale (Ngamo tà:hò looks similar, but Ngamo h seems normally to correspond to Bole p, not k.) For "step on", however, Schuh points to a potential cognate set in a slightly more distantly related West Chadic subgroup, Bade. In this subgroup, we have Gashua Bade tà:gɗú, Western Bade tàgɗú, Ngizim tàkɗú which Schuh analyses as *tàk- plus an unproductive verbal extension -ɗu supported by Bade-internal evidence, eg tə̀nkùku "press" vs. tə̀nkwàkùɗu "massage". Within Bole-Tangale, one might speculate that Gera tàndə̀- is cognate, but Gera seems to be known only from short wordlists, so that would be difficult to show.

So the comparative evidence provides some support for the idea that Hausa tá:kà: "step on" goes back to proto-West Chadic. If tà:kàlmí: "shoe" could be regularly derived from this verb within Chadic, then the answer would appear clear: Songhay borrowed it from Chadic. However, while Hausa frequently forms deverbal nouns with a suffix -i: (Newman (2000:157), there seems to be no plausible language-internal explanation for the -lm-. In Songhay, on the other hand, a suffix -mi forming nouns from verbs (sometimes -m-ey with a former plural suffix stuck on) is reasonably well-attested: Gao (Heath 1999:97) dey "buy" vs. dey-mi "purchase (n.)", key "weave" vs. key-mi "weaving", Kikara (Heath 2005:97-98) kà:rù "go up" vs. kàr-mɛ̂y "going up", húná "live" vs. hùnà-mɛ̀y "long life". A shift *-mi to *-mu seems natural enough, especially since a few Songhay varieties actually have reflexes of "shoe" with a final -i in any case; so the Songhay form looks kind of like it could be **tàg "step on" plus deverbal -mí̀. To top it off, deverbal noun-forming suffixes in -r- are widely attested in Songhay, and Zarma attests a combined suffix -àr-mì: zànjì "break" vs. zànjàrmì "shard", bágú "break" vs. bàgàrmì "piece of debris" (Tersis 1981:244). If we treat the Hausa form as a borrowing from Songhay, we can then analyse it as **tàg "step on" plus deverbal -àr-mí. But before we get carried away, we should note that within Songhay there's no motivation for analysing the -mu / -mi in "shoe" as a suffix; the verb and the noun differ (if at all) only in the final vowel.

So what to make of all this? So far, the scenario that suggests itself is something like the following:

  1. Songhay borrows a verb *tàk "step on" from West Chadic (or vice versa?).
  2. Songhay internally forms a deverbal noun *tàk-mí "shoe" (there is no reconstructible contrast between *k and *g in coda position in proto-Songhay), alongside a variant *tàk-àr-mí.
  3. Hausa borrows this as tà:kàlmí:.
  4. Songhay replaces *tàk with a denominal verb formed from "shoe" (which becomes internally unanalysable): *tàgm-á. This step has possible internal motivations: in most of Songhay, final velar stops disappeared leaving behind only compensatory lengthening on the preceding vowel, and the resulting form tà: would have been homophonous with the much commoner verb "receive, take".
  5. Djougou Dendi, a heavily Hausa-influenced, somewhat creolized Songhay variety spoken in Benin, borrows the Hausa form as tàkăm.

Further Chadic comparative data may yet turn out to bear upon this etymology, but one thing seems clear: these two families have been affecting each other for a long time.

Music meme: day 24 of 30

Thursday, October 12th, 2017 02:40 pm
liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (Default)
[personal profile] liv
Another song category I disagree with: A song by a band you wish were still together. A band breaking up is like any relationship coming to an end: if the people involved don't want to be together any more, who am I to wish they stayed in a situation no longer good for them?

It's also partly another example where I don't have the relationship with music that the meme seems to assume. I don't really have any bands that I follow in the manner of eagerly anticipating a new release, therefore none that make me sad if they split up and there won't be any new material coming. The existing songs that I like are still there for me to listen to. I do occasionally go to live gigs performed by ageing rockers, and that's cool, but it's not something I wish for more of in my life.

So I'm going to pick Joy Division. I wish at least that Curtis had lived for the band to split up due to creative differences, rather than coming to an end with his death. He'd be 60 now, and it's hard to imagine what Joy Division might have done if he'd had even one more decade with them let alone four. A lot of other bands from that sort of era, if they have carried on, have tended to get more bleepy and less raw noise, and New Order certainly went in that direction, but Joy Division were something else, and I imagine that they might have continued to innovate musically, maybe not all the way through to the 2010s but through the 80s and 90s at least.

Here's something a bit more gentle and thinky than their big hits like Love will tear us apart: Passover, by Joy Division.

video embed (audio only) )


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